WASHINGTON — President Bush's letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, raising the possibility of normalized relations if he discloses his nuclear programs by year-end, is a change for a president who labeled the communist regime part of an "axis of evil."

"I want to emphasize that the declaration must be complete and accurate if we are to continue our progress," Bush wrote, according to an excerpt of the Dec. 1 letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The Bush administration sought to play down the diplomatic significance of the letter — the president's first to the reclusive North Korean leader. Yet, it reflected how U.S. policy toward the nation has shifted from the days when Bush shunned the dictator.

The letter might sate Kim's craving to be recognized by the U.S. as a player on the world stage. However, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush meant it as a "reminder" to North Korea that it has pledged to provide — by the end of the month — a complete and accurate disclosure of its nuclear programs.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the contents of the letter, said Bush indicated to Kim that if North Korea does what it has agreed to do, and the Korean peninsula is denuclearized, then that will ultimately lead to normalization.

The United States is looking for a complete declaration of North Korea's nuclear facilities, materials and programs and also insists that it address any role that the North Koreans have played in spreading nuclear technology or know-how to others.